After leaving the classroom, one of the most common questions every teacher has to answer is why I quit teaching. And the truth is, there are an infinite number of reasons that teachers might leave.
But as my friend Joey Udovich shares in today’s episode, the final decision can be truly heart-wrenching. Her decision had nothing to do with hating teaching and absolutely everything to do with her mental and physical health.
Discover how Joey finally came to terms with her decision, whether or not she plans to return to the classroom, and her suggestions for recognizing warning signs in your life.
Hi, my name is Joey Udovich, and I’m a newly resigned classroom teacher. I taught elementary aged kiddos for 13 years, but this is my first year (2021 – 2022 school year) as a full time TpTer…and I am both anxious and excited to see what this next chapter brings. You can find me on IG @JoeyUdovich and on TpT.
The events that brought Joey to teaching
I grew up in a really small town, and my parents didn’t make a lot of money. My father was a coal miner and my mother stayed at home and helped with the kids.
There were four of us in a small house where we all shared one bedroom. It was hard at times, money wise, growing up and I always had this mentality of I was going to kick the dust off this old town and go do something really big.
So I went to college over 3 hours away from home, and I planned to major in fashion merchandising which is so funny to me now because I couldn’t care less about fashion at all…in fact, I literally live in yoga pants and sweatshirts.
Long story short, I ended up coming back home after my sophomore year and went to a closer college where I decided to major in business. The summer I came home, one of my closest friends was killed in a bad accident. The truth is he wasn’t just a friend; he was more like my brother.
Little did I know this event would be life altering! The week he passed away, his brother, who eventually became my husband, asked me if I was going back to New York. And it was like a bolt of lightning hit me and I said, “I don’t want to go…I want to stay home I want to teach.”
It was a God thing. I know it was because in that moment, without question, everything I thought I wanted switched. My priorities clicked into place and I just knew my path at that point.
Joey’s TpT journey
In 2013, I began praying, and I prayed and prayed, saying, “God we are living paycheck to paycheck.” I was a new teacher and my husband had just gotten on with the state police. We had a cute little house but our family was growing and I didn’t want to struggle the way my parents had.
At the time, I was making tutus with tulle (and if I never see tulle again, that will be fine!). But I thought, “If I can just an extra $50 here and there, that would be great because it would help me with groceries.”
In the fall of that year, my brother-in-law told me about the “millionaire teacher” (Deanna Jump) he had seen on TV who talked about Teacher Pay Teachers, but I brushed off the conversation.
Then in January, it was like a bolt of lightning hit me again! I didn’t think about it during Christmas because it wasn’t even something I was pondering. But January 1, it was like I was given permission to just go do it!
I had no social media and I didn’t know what a blog was. I think I might have had Pinterest, but I didn’t have Facebook and I certainly didn’t have Instagram. I didn’t know how to…
- design product covers
- create a jpeg or png
- make a pdf or even what a pdf was.
I literally had no idea what I was doing, but I worked my tail off during the first summer and I ended up making $20,000. I don’t say that to boast, but I say that because I realized TpT was a legitimate money-making opportunity and I was blown away!
Obviously, I spent all of my free time creating things for my shop when I wasn’t teaching. But I put all of it on hold because one night my daughter said to me, “Mommy can you play with me tomorrow instead of your computer?” My heart broke into a million pieces and I determined that I would just put my shop on autopilot for a while.
Pivoting in her business
So, I did TpT off and on for several years and it did well. By 2017, I had two more daughters and my business had grown so much that it was becoming pretty demanding. I was struggling to find the balance of being an awesome teacher, because I loved it, and I never ever dreaded going to work. Ever.
Yet, I was juggling being a great teacher with trying to answer questions, make products, and run a business while also trying to be a good wife and mother. I put so much pressure on myself to be the best of everything.
Then add on the fact that we deal with a lot of emotional stuff our kids bring into the classroom and I remember coming home and my husband saying, “Why are you so stressed? You have a really great job.” And I was like, “You have no idea. You hit the ground running and you don’t stop whether that be mentally, emotionally, physically or simply you just being up there doing your job teaching.”
Then I would get home and snap at my kids over things that were completely irrelevant and I never should have done that. It made me feel terrible. I realized everything annoyed me and everything was slipping.
But it wasn’t until 2018 that I knew what I had to do; I knew.
It was an evening in October and I was preparing for our annual Halloween party. I was walking up my basement steps and I remember just leaning over against the wall, taking a deep breath and I started sobbing. My hands were shaking and I felt like I was literally at the brink of a nervous breakdown. At that point, I knew something had to give.
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Joey’s teaching sabbatical
That spring, I sat down with my superintendent and principal and I just sobbed. I told them I had tried getting on medication and it didn’t touch my anxiety, so I had gotten off of it. I realized that for my mental health, I had to take a sabbatical; I had to let something go for a year.
The plan was to work on TpT for a year. But then my youngest daughter’s babysitter quit. So I ended up with her all year long not being able to work. Then COVID hit, and everything changed.
Up to that point, my plan was to still go back to school in the fall of 2020 because I missed it. I was like, “It’s ok, its fine. I still had a year home with my daughter; I can do this.” But the summer before school started, my mother looked at me and said, “Joey, what about your father?”
You see, my dad’s health was not great and we see my parents every day. That is a non-negotiable for me to be with my parents and my kids. They are very close.
So, I knew I couldn’t go back to work. At that point, I told my school district, “If you cannot do something to keep me, I understand. I want to stay but I just can’t.” So thankfully through my union, I was able to receive a year of unpaid leave.
I am so grateful to this day that they did that because I spent that year home with my girls helping them.
The final decision
Then this year, 2021-2022 came; it wasn’t a matter of whether I wanted to teach, I always wanted to teach. But I had to ask myself…
- Do you want to go back to the stress?
- Now it’s not just teaching full time…you are a mom, you have a business, the health situations are still present.
I knew if I went back all of the pressure would come right back, and I couldn’t handle it. My TpT business was at the point where I had to pay attention to it because it was sustaining my family (while I was on unpaid leave) and blessing my family so much.
So, I decided I had to leave and I did. Before making that decision, I went to my superintendent’s office and I just cried and cried. I said, “I don’t know what to do.” And he told me the most amazing thing. He said, “Joey, as a superintendent, I don’t want you to go. But as a father and a husband, I understand why you would.”
And for the first time in over 13 years, I am finding myself recharging a little bit and I am absolutely a better mom and a better housekeeper. I know that might sound silly, but if anybody is like me when I know my laundry is done, my dishes are done, and my bed is made up, I feel like my mind is clearer and I can process my day a little easier.
I am doing that effortlessly now whereas before I had too much laundry and I was always so frustrated. Now I have a system. It is work in the day so the evenings are all about my kids (where they need to go and what they need to do), getting dinner ready, and getting those chores done before I go to bed.
As hard as the decision was, I know it was a good decision for me.
Everybody’s reason for leaving is unique. I didn’t want to leave…I really didn’t.
My classroom was my second home. My father and I would spend countless hours going in and decorating and I cherished the classroom. It was hard to give up. It was hard for me to give up that I was not a part of the staff anymore, the professional staff.
I actually miss the in-service days. I was a little heartbroken when the teachers got together for a little craft project and I wasn’t there. But you know what, I am doing other things. I am finding my groove and my place in the educational world where I am still making an impact.
I have teachers reach out to me all the time letting me know what they are using that I made and sending me pictures of their door decor. That is awesome and that is what it is about.
TpT has been a blessing in that I get to meet people like you and other teachers. It is just an honor.
The response to Joey’s announcement
The education world we live in now is so much bigger than just the classroom. A teacher is just someone who helps others find success. I think that instead of you focusing all of your attention on your one classroom of students, you’re able to pour into your own kids and into other teachers who can then turn around and pour into their students.
Where we are now seeing a trend of so many teachers leaving the classroom, it is opening up the education world and classrooms to new teachers who are wanting jobs.
I felt like I was being a blessing for leaving because financially I didn’t need that job (and I say that very gently) and somebody else did. That was what I kept telling myself to help me get through it. I realized I was making a pathway for somebody else’s journey in education and I am continuing mine just like you said. It is not locked into the walls of your classroom.
I have had teachers tell me (especially when I did my live about leaving the classroom), “Joey you are teaching us!” There is so much more I have to offer. I am not just door decor and planners. I was a teacher and I dealt with it all. I loved what I did and I had an enthusiasm for it and I feel like I need to try to process that so I can get it across to teachers.
Whether that is live, on Instagram, telling them things I would do. I am still working on that. Now I have the time to work on it. I am embracing that challenge and I am excited for it.
Joey’s suggestions for struggling teachers
1. Set your priorities, take a step back, and find a way to recharge
You have to recharge. I didn’t have time to recharge. I had three kids and my youngest is now five and it has been 13 years of being on, on, on and trying to do everything for everybody.
This was my chance to take a step back. I’m not necessarily saying take a step back and leave the classroom because we need great educators. But, take a step back and ask yourself what can I do to alleviate this stress because it is ongoing and it never ends.
Like I said before, as teachers we have to wear so many hats that have to be worn constantly. It is 100% draining so I just want to validate that for teachers. Those emotions are real and they are hard to deal with sometimes.
But just as important as setting the priorities is revisiting them. If 2020 taught us nothing else, we learned that life circumstances change, and because no one could foresee that coming, everybody has had to regroup.
There is nothing wrong with realigning your priorities when they get misplaced. Most of the time we feel like we are just putting out fires, feeling like you’ve gotten nothing done, and I can relate to that.
I hate going to bed feeling like I was not productive. And back when I was still in the classroom, no matter what I did I felt like I was always dropping the ball somewhere; I was disappointing someone. I wasn’t doing enough here or there or even for myself. When you get to that point something has to change.
2. Practice saying no
As teachers we tend to want to help everyone, so we take on more than we can handle. No is a really hard thing for people, like myself, to say because I don’t want to disappoint anybody.
Even this last week I got three emails from buyers who were like I need you to make this, this, and this. I don’t do custom orders because I don’t have the time and I feel bad but I just can’t.
I make products, but I am up against a lot of criticism from buyers and other teachers. I always overthink things because I want to consider everything, but we are never going to appease everyone. I have gotten better with that but I cannot do all the things.
That’s another thing. I apologize all the time and I don’t know that we should be apologizing all the time. I apologize for things that are silly. With teaching you are always on and always have to be everything to everybody. But you have to simply make time to figure out how to take that breath and figure out how you can make it through without completely losing your mind.
3. Keep an open mind
There are certain years you wonder if the year is going to end. In my last year of teaching in the classroom, I actually taught my oldest daughter’s grade level and they were the best group I had ever taught. So naturally, that made it ten times harder to say I wasn’t coming back.
Prior to making my decision not to return, I felt I was giving 110% as a teacher. But after the spring of 2020 (and the year of virtual learning), I observed two teachers in my district. That was hard.
My teaching method is very interactive. And I hated what I was seeing because the kids had to stay in their seats, the teacher was up here, and everybody had on their masks and it just made me sad.
Keep in mind that during that time, I had been a parent watching the Zooms, watching the teachers, and empathizing with what they had to do. After having discussions on Instagram with other teachers about what education looked like, my heart bled for teachers and educators.
As I reflected on what I saw and heard and considered the stress of teaching in a normal year, I realized I was not up for the fight, which is a huge reason I stepped aside.
4. Evaluate your situation and talk to your family
I would not have done anything without my husband and my kids being on board. I can’t tell you how many times I asked my kids if they were ok with mommy not having a classroom.
That was all they knew and that was their mental safe place because they knew mommy was at the school. If I had not had their support, I could not have done it. So, first and foremost they need to evaluate their situation and is it okay.
5. Make a plan
Then ask yourself,
- Is it going to impact everybody or just them?
- What is your plan for a job?
- Do you have a business? Is it already established or not?
You need to figure out where you are on that journey because I would not recommend leaving the classroom if you don’t have something solid. For me, I could look back at the last five years and say this was my average income, so I am going to be okay.
If I had months that I made only $100 bucks and another month I made $5000 that would mean I need to evaluate which months I am going to save so that the low months have everything covered.
There is nothing wrong with taking a step in another direction entirely. Look at the options, do the research, listen to Jennifer’s podcast and find a job that will be a good fit for you. This is a big decision, so you want to think it all the way through.
And leaving now doesn’t mean you can’t go back, but you need to be mindful and not burn any bridges so this option is still open to you later.
Many people think having a TPT store is just posting resources. But it is not. It is so much more than that and I am still working on it. In any venture, whether it is in the classroom or outside the classroom, to be successful you have to have a plan and be willing to put in the time and effort.
There are going to be times when you question, “Is it worth it?” But in the long run, if you make a plan of action and you stick to your plan reflecting back on your goals and making changes as needed, you will be successful.
Be sure to follow Joey on IG @JoeyUdovich & check out her TpT shop for some awesome classroom goodness!! Also make sure to share any of your takeaways from this episode by tagging me on IG @classroom_exit_strategies. I’d love to celebrate with you.